Hirer beware: How to avoid making the wrong choice

Human Resources

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You no doubt have made your share of hiring mistakes. You know how costly they are in many ways, including the emotional expense of resolving the situation.

I made a doozy of a hiring mistake when I was about 20 years old and decided to interrupt my college experience for a year so I could set up my dad’s office. At that time, and ever since he launched his business, my dad kept all the administrative duties to himself. He ran a small interstate trucking business, and besides one or two ledgers on his desk, the rest of the paperwork consisted of notes stuck here and there in his pockets. During the first month, I spent a lot of time retrieving those notes and attempting to organize them into systems of some sort. Finally, I accomplished that to my satisfaction; though I believe Dad was always more comfortable with those scraps of paper he could pull out wherever he might be.

Now I was ready to ship off to the University of Florida. I set about interviewing applicants for the job of managing the “new” office. Dad left that all up to me, and I finally made a selection: a pleasant, middle-aged women who came across as smart and congenial. “She’ll do nicely,” I thought.

In long-distance conversations with my parents, my dad had little to say about his new office manager, and finally I coaxed out of him that she hadn’t worked out. Turns out she had a serious problem with alcohol abuse and no interest in doing anything about it. Shortly after I returned to school, she began missing work frequently, as well as coming in late and leaving early. Occasionally, she showed up a little tipsy.

Dad resolved the situation, then said he would just go back to his “old ways” of office management until I got home on break. I felt sad about her problem, and humiliated that I had pretty well messed up my last responsibility for Dad’s company.

I hadn’t thought of that experience for ages, until I read one of David Brooks’ columns, titled “The Employer’s Creed.” The column reminded me of how tricky and how important it is to make the right hire. Brooks began, “Dear Employers, You may not realize it, but you have a powerful impact on the culture and the moral ecology of our era. If your human resources bosses decide they want to hire a certain sort of person, then young people begin turning themselves into that sort of person.” Hmmm.

The first principle in the Employer’s Creed, says Brooks, is, “Bias hiring decisions against perfectionists.” He described the resumes depicting an applicant with a 3.8 grade-point average, who served in leadership positions in all kinds of campus organizations, was awesome in internships, and in off-hours distributed bed nets in Zambia. You know that kind of resume.

Brooks cautions that the perfectionist has followed a cookie-cutter formula for success and that we really don’t know much about what he is really like, beyond a high talent for social conformity. I would add another cautionary remark, in that the perfectionist may have at times done anything to maintain that grade average. In your organization, he may feel compelled to appear perfect to his superiors, even if it takes a bit of lying or stealing credit from a co-worker.

The article includes several other principles. One I like especially is: “Reward cover letter rebels.” Brooks says, “Job seeking is the second greatest arena of social pretense in modern life – after dating.” He advises us to look for the people who do not spin or exaggerate. “You want people who are radically straight, even with superiors.”

The article is from the Tuesday, April 1, 2014 edition of “The New York Times.” If you want to consider following David Brooks’ Employer’s Creed, you may “correct some of the perversities at the upper reaches of our meritocracy. You may even help cultivate deeper, fuller human beings.”

I think our universe could use an influx of such folks, don’t you?

-Jo Gorissen is a certified transition coach and a former Milwaukee area resident. She can be reached at jgorissen1@gmail.com.

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